Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the Way of the Gift

Dancing on a Very Small Island - Brian Kershisnik

So, first of all, I'm not an indifferent slug of a movie watcher. I'm all about emotional involvement within bounds. In "Raising Arizona" when Holly Hunter and Nicholas Cage are driving off into the dark night with young Nathan Junior, I laugh (I just love him so much!). In "Children of Men" when Clive Owen's getaway car continually stalls as he and those precious women are running from the Fishes, I sit on my heels and groan. And in "My Life", after Michael Keaton's character ruminates on a life of experience, regret, imperfection, and beauty, he is at last wheeled into his backyard for his final birthday party, and I curl up into a fetal position in the corner and weep. Honest truth (except the fetal position part).

Christy doesn't like "My Life" for the exact same reason I love it - the emotional ride. For me, it's catharsis. For her it's forebodings. I respect that entirely. We can't help but think of our own children. How will they turn out? Are we performing our roles well? Do they know how infinite they are? How fulfilling and meaningful they have been to us?

Which brings me to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite novels. It speaks to these questions. The narrator is an old minister who, after spending a life of bachelorhood, marries and becomes a father in old age. He is haunted by the thought that he will die without ever coming to know his boy in earnest as he grows to manhood. So the book is, essentially, one long epistle to that boy. "My Life" on steroids.

These two sons of ours are a grace I don't think I'll ever fully wrap myself around. I don't even know if such a thing is possible. The minister writes, "There are so many things you would never think to tell anyone. And I believe they may be the things that mean most to you, and that even your own child would have to know in order to know you well at all." Lord, I suspect that is true. How will I know if I'm telling the right stories? Will they ever really know me? And me them?

The minister says, "In every important way we are such secrets from each other and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable."

"For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man, which is in him?" 1 Corinthians 2:11

If this is true, then perhaps I'm speaking Latin, and they English, and their unborn children some future cryptic dialect. This goes beyond mere generation gap. Perhaps we really are, to one degree or another, lost in translation. I hope to minimize that. And I hope to communicate a few things to them. Love is the given, obviously the foremost. I don't doubt that they feel it. But there is more.

One thing that has been on my mind, of late, is expressed so artfully in Gilead. The minister writes, "These days there are so many people who think loyalty to religion is benighted, if it is not worse than benighted. I am aware of that, and I know the charges that can be brought against the churches are powerful. And I know, too, that my own experience of the church has been, in many senses sheltered and parochial. In every sense, unless it really is a universal and transcendent life, unless the bread is the bread and the cup is the cup everywhere, in all circumstances, and it is a time with the Lord in Gethsemane that comes for everyone, as I deeply believe...It all means more than I can tell you. So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for. If I could only give you what my father gave me. No, what the Lord has given me and must also give you. But I hope you will put yourself in the way of the gift."

I suppose it must be the universalist part of me bubbling to the surface. I want my boys to close their eyes on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in a sacrament meeting (a meeting I loathe to miss) and experience sincere communion, as I feel I have done so often, with God (who is Love) and the Son (who was the ultimate expression of it). And I want them to extend the circle of that experience and see in their mind's eye other people in other houses the world over, some with steeples, some with crosses, some with drums. Some with wafers and wine. Some with menorahs and yarmulkes. Some with prayer rugs. And push that circle onward to our dear friends, who, instead of sitting next to us, are hiking in the mountains in search of their own transcendence. I don't want them to hoard validation. I want to weld with them, together in love, and tolerance, and understanding.

If we can consider this life a gift, we might imagine it hidden, or up there on a shelf just out of reach, or maybe right here in our hands unopenable, without seams. Or we might see it as relationships between ourselves and those around us, our language all of a color, absurd in its beauty, epiphanous in it's proximity. It may be that, or something else entirely, but "you must not judge what I know by what I find words for."


Alicen said...

Did you know that my favorite movie growing up (I remember being around 9 and watching this and rewatching this) was Terms of Endearment? I don't know if you've ever seen it, but it's one of those that you're weeping at the end. And my goodness, Les, your post speaks to me tonight. I had deep ponderings on the way home tonight as I looked up into the big, dark sky. I won't go into it too much in a blog comment, but life just seems so much MORE than it used to. It's like having children magnifies it and then some. How DO we communicate all that we have in our hearts to our children? How will I EVER? I long to know and understand my own parents deeply and yet feel that in this life I may never. Is it the eternal quest from generation to generation to understand the ones before and the ones to come? And is that why we have geneology/work for the dead to link eternal truths and bring us into one language? It's deep. I have great hope someday to really understand.

Les said...

Regretfully, I've never seen Terms of Endearment. I remember, years ago, catching about 10 minutes on TV and laughing. I logged a mental note to rent it sometime, but never have. I shall remedy that.

Lately, I've asked myself, what was going through my father's head when he was my age? What hopes, dreams, aspirations did he have and how are they different/same from what he has now? How can I learn more from him?

And then I ask myself, why am I asking myself and not asking him, as if the book is sealed and I'm unable to pick up the phone and start the dialogue now? Because it would be weird? Because it is more comfortable to talk about football? I am so with you. I feel there are so many parts of me they will never know or understand. And that is somewhat sad. But it is also beautiful on some level, because I think they would acknowledge that, and be at peace with the love we share despite that.

The geneology question is a good one (and partly the reason I brought in the "weld" metaphor). I think it was a key part of Brother Joseph's vision, to weld the world together in a way we probably still don't quite understand.

Isn't it a beautiful thing to see though? People genuinely seeking to understand one another? Especially when there are generation gaps involved? We are absolutely on the same page. We share the same questions. If you find the answers before I do, please share.

Dion said...

I love the artwork. Brian Kershisnik was a mission companion to my brother in Denmark.

Colby said...

Thank you so much for sharing Les. It seems like some sort of sacrilege to write only one simple sentence after the many in your I'll write two.

Les said...

Colby, if I can't get sacrilege from you, who can I get it from?


Thanks for the kind words. We love you and hope that your western travels are full of starry nights and filled venues.